Pearl Jam released Backspacer in September of 2009. It was Pearl Jam’s first BILLBOARD 200 chart-topper in the United States since 1996’s No Code.
I’m going to be totally honest with you. If I weren’t two albums away from finishing this project, I would abandon this project. I wouldn’t even feel bad about it. But instead, I’m going to power through and listen to Pearl Jam’s 2009 album, Backspacer.
Gonna See My Friend – A reasonable enough opening rocker with good energy. The recording sounds great. It relies a little too heavily on rock and roll tropes for my taste, but at this point these guys are getting pretty old and probably only listen to Chuck Berry records or something. The chorus sounds like something Guns N Roses would do, or at least it does to me. I don’t feel like listening to Pearl Jam, guys.
Got Some – A straightforward chugger that works through sheer forward motion. The band actually sounds more energetic than they have in ages. Eddie sounds younger than he ought to and not even the introduction of a wanky little guitar solo in this song’s last moments can bring down the fact that it’s actually pretty good. Again, the recording sounds pretty terrific.
The Fixer – This is what it sounds like when a band sits down and says “Let’s write a hit single”. This could have been cooked up in a laboratory. There’s buzzy synths and hand claps in here. Half of the lyrics are “Yeah yeah yeah”. This song just makes it sound like they all wanted to buy new boats, so they decided to try to get a song in a paper towel commercial or something. The recording is still tight, though.
Johnny Guitar – Ahhhhhh, a Pearl Jam song-story in the grand tradition of “Jeremy” or “I can’t find me a bettermen”. Beyond peak-Jam main guitar figure, I can’t find much to like about this. Drums sound pretty good.
Just Breathe – Here you have your acoustic ballad. What I don’t love about the songwriting (which seems fairly uninspired to me) is made up for by the arrangement. This record really does sound great. The keyboard sounds and string section in this tune are both immaculate. Who recorded this?
Amongst the Waves – Bass and drums sound great. This song is boring as shit.
Unthought Known – Oh cool, now they think they’re U2. Recording sounds great.
Supersonic – Sounds like your dad’s band covering the Ramones but also singing you a song about brushing your teeth and getting to bed early. If I had to say something nice about this, it would be that the recording sounds great.
Speed of Sound – Although Eddie is trying to perform this with more drama than he can reasonably sell, this song is interesting from a composition perspective. It sounds like they actually put some thought into it. Also, when this song started, I noticed the vibe that it had and thought “Oh, boy… this one is going to be like six minutes long”. Not so! It’s a lean 3 and a half minutes long. It’s fine. Guitar sounds great.
Force of Nature – A lot of records will have their worst song land as the song right before the last song. This record is like those records, because this song is really bad and boring. You know what’s good, though? The recording, which sounds great.
The End – It would have been really, really funny if PJ had ended this record with a cover of that terrible song by The Doors. But no, this is another acoustic ballad. Eddie is really quivering in this one, which is a little annoying, but like “Just Breathe”, this is really nicely arranged. This also caps off the record in a way that is strangely concise, for Pearl Jam. These songs are all pretty tightly written, and this is no super-epic of a closing track. It’s nice. Bittersweet and nicely performed. And boy, was that nice performance captured by some great sounding production. Recording sounds great.
Backspacer is an extremely well-produced album of mostly boring Pearl Jam songs. There are a few high points and a few pleasant points, but nothing all that exceptional from a songwriting perspective. That being said, there actually aren’t any complete embarrassments on this record, placing it on similar footing with the Self-Titled/Avocado record that I reviewed a few weeks ago. This record is better than that record, though, as the band sounds more interested in what they’re doing and the instruments all sound so amazing.
Actually, this album is considerably better than the Avocado one, and considerably better than Riot Act.
Truth be told, from a standpoint of consistency, this might be one of the most listenable albums in the entire Pearl Jam catalogue. It’ll be interesting to see where I’ll have to rank it, when it comes time to put this series to bed once and for all and present the world with my opinion of what the best Pearl Jam record ever is (it’s Vitalogy, btw).
If you’re only just now joining us, you’re reading the TENTH installment of my Reevaluating Pearl Jam series, and you can go back to the beginning here: